Urban Policy Positions

Agents of Urbanism did a nice rundown a few weeks back on the differences between Barack Obama's and John McCain's urban policy proposals. As you can tell from the available links, the biggest difference is that, well, John McCain doesn't seem to have any.

That said, a lot of Obama's urban policy prescriptions fall into either the "motherhood and apple pie" who could object category, like "support job creation" or aren't really specifically related to urban areas, such as, "provide a tax cut for working families".

"Establish 'Promise Neighborhoods' for Areas of Concentrated Poverty" sounds like it could be good for Oakland, as does "Increase the Supply of Affordable Housing throughout Metropolitan Regions". But "Control Superfund Sites and Data" sounds weirdly big brother. All in all, it is about what you'd expect - a lot of fluff and jargon, with a few interesting ideas, and the devil of all of them will be in the details.

The most disappointing aspect of Obama's plans is the lack of any ideas under a transportation heading. The single most important thing the federal government could do for cities would be to shift transport spending away from new roads and toward mass transportation and the repair of existing roads and sidewalks. As would using it's vast spending power to discourage over-regulation of the built environment by local governments, which keeps most communities less dense than they naturally would be with a freer market.

But, as with many issues, if the federal government won't lead, states must. It looks like this may be beginning in California. And this is a welcome change. The creation of buildings is the most regulated good produced in our country, with predictable results. Supply is severely restricted, which benefits the powerful (those already owning homes, who gain value from supply restrictions) at the expense of the less powerful (renters, who suffer higher rents from same). This is all the more unfortunate because the actual production of buildings is more market-like than almost any other good made, there are numerous producers relative to consumers, unlike, for example, cola.

In addition, all this regulation happens on an extremely local basis, which is done with almost no other good. It is no wonder housing costs are so high.

And while certainly both the federal and state governments should be dealing with this through the carrots and sticks of the budget, it may be time for the state to step in and directly coerce local communities to deregulate. California attempts to do this to some degree with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, but in the previous housing cycle, the areas you'd want to meet the goal didn't, and those you wouldn't did - that is, if you love cities like Oakland. And it doesn't go far enough, by, say, mandating the relaxation of zoning barriers to micro homes, housing over shops, or small multi-family buildings adjacent to single-family homes, and so doesn't challenge the existing status quo.

So you better buy now, housing in Oakland will only get more and more expensive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the link, and I'm glad you took a more critical approach. I didn't have the time to post much of an analysis on Obama's plan; although, I suspected it was not perfect. As I think you understand, I just wanted to call on both candidates to develop a plan or policy in order for individuals from small towns and cities, alike, to develop praise and criticism for respective aspects of each plan. Without a plan from the McCain camp, I doubt there is little impetus on Obama to push this more than he has.

As for the direction you took this post, I couldn't agree more. Even if the task of developing regional transit is intimidating, there is no reason to ignore local transit. Then, you at least have the potential for regional transit to grow out of a host of cities with successful local transit.

Yet somehow, I foresee federal and state governments far more likely to address mass transit before they consider deregulation. Pity.

I hope some creative individuals and organizations prove me wrong.